Reviewed: Tom Petty, Pharrell, New York Dolls

New albums from Tom Petty, Pharrell and the New York Dolls.

Published July 25, 2006 7:30PM (EDT)

Tom Petty, "Highway Companion"

Arriving in the midst of a successful tour, "Highway Companion" is Tom Petty's third solo album and first album of any kind since 2002's ornery "The Last DJ." According to the New York Times, "Highway Companion" finds the 55-year-old Petty in an "autumnal" mood, with many of the album's songs reflecting "on time passing by."

The album's melancholic tone didn't work for some critics, who felt it dragged. Rolling Stone, for example (rating: 3.5/5), commented that while the album demonstrated Petty's "stylistic range and rock-solid songcraft," too many of the tracks were "stuck in a midtempo Neil Young-ish lope." Harp magazine expressed similar feelings, praising Petty's "focused" songwriting, but criticizing the album's "overreliance on slow and mid-tempo material."

Not all critics saw the album's pacing as a negative, though. The Detroit Free Press (rating: 3/5) felt that "Highway Companion's" "subtle treasures" were "ruminative, but wistful, mellow but not sluggish" and matched up well with "Petty's top work since his 1976 debut."

But ultimately, the respectfully received album was deemed too listless for most reviewers to get behind. The Village Voice offered perhaps the most cutting critique: "While he flees or revisits dark corners in every song, Petty sings like he has nothing at stake. Pleasant but slight, ["Highway Companion"] flirts with revelations it can't quite kiss."

Pharrell, "In My Mind"

Pharrell is one-half of the superstar production duo Neptunes, the leader of critically acclaimed rock band N.E.R.D., a fashion model and a designer, but the absolutely dismal response to "In My Mind," his solo album, suggests he may be spreading himself too thin. Pitchfork (rating: 3.9/10) damned the album as "predictable," with its "quasi-philosophical, brazenly materialistic music" leaving the critic with a "moist, spoiled aftertaste."

It gets worse. "By any standard," concluded the New York Times, "In My Mind" is "a disappointment." And in what counts as a pan from the normally easy-to-please Billboard, Pharrell was derided for failing to "translate" the "originality" of his production work over to his solo album.

But it was Stylus magazine (rating: D) that had the funniest (and meanest) of the many takedowns, as it claimed that the album would cause "any sane listener's bullshit meter" to "red-line after about fifteen minutes of its textured repulsiveness," and then used the following lines from "That Girl" to puncture Pharrell's romantic pretensions:

"I arrested the coochie and the feelings got cuffed."

New York Dolls, "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This"

On their first new album in 32 years, proto-punk heroes New York Dolls return with a lineup that features only two of the band's original five members. But the diminished quantity of original band members doesn't seem to have adversely affected the quality of the music, as the album has been given a very warm, though not fawning, reception by the critical community.

The band's lingering influence was always more readily apparent in the U.K. than in the U.S., and accordingly, the English music press seemed relieved that the new album doesn't sully the Doll's legendary reputation. For the Guardian (rating: 3/5) it was enough to find that "the band's interests are still very much the same as they were three decades ago." Meanwhile, the Observer (rating: 5/5) assured fans that "behind the worryingly apologetic title lies a record far better than it has any right to be."

The album was also praised on the this side of the Atlantic, but in more muted fashion. Entertainment Weekly (rating: B+) warned that those "heavily invested in the Dolls mythos" will be "disappointed," but the album pleases anyway, since "the new Dollettes don't try to replicate the old sound but opt for the rowdy professionalism of (singer David) Johansen's '70s/'80s solo efforts." Finally, even the dark mavens at the Lords of Metal Web site (rating: 78/100) offered their own, uniquely slanted testimonial to the band's lasting influence: "Fans of (Kiss and Motley Crue) should go and get this, you'll be surprised by the fact you'll recognize so much."

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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